The Three Ring Circus is a 50km mountain biking event held in the Wingello State forest, bordering on the edge of the Morton National park in the Australian Southern Highlands. I heard about the event through a fellow unicyclist (Gabor Holmik) that came along to the Australian Mountain Unicycling weekend that I organized for the Easter Long weekend earlier this year. With the ligaments in my right ankle healed (from a nasty bail at the very Muni weekend I put together!) and the support of the event organizers I was eager to partake in what would be my first organized endurance race against bikes. I didn’t have any idea as to how the event would unfold. I had been down with the flu 2 weeks before the race and had not been able to get as many training rides in as I would have liked. I also didn’t know anything about the type of trails that would make up the 50km, and if I would be able to keep pace making the time cut off for the last lap. The race consisted of 3 separate routes (rings) that intersected a central transition/food/water area.
The setup I used for the race was my custom KH/Schlumpf 24”. A components run down of my ride goes like this- Kh/Schlumpf muni hub, KH frame, 125/150mm moment cranks (using125mm hole), Thomson seat post with rail adapter and custom Muni Handle, KH freeride saddle, Magura HS33 rim brake, Duro Wildlife 3.0 tyre and Addict Knock out Pedals (thanks to my sponsor Unicycle.com.au- more about the pedals later). For the race I was using my Protec skate helmet, 661 comp cloves, 5:10 Sam Hill DH shoes, generic cycling nics and a 2.0L High Sierra hydration pack.
I drove to the event starting point with my wonderful girlfriend (yay for a support crew!) the evening before the race and camped out in my new campervan. The night was clear and very cold but as the riders emerged from their tents, cars, caravans we were all greeted with a brisk but sunny morning with blue skies. My unicycle started to get a bit of attention from the other bikers as the rider orientation took place and everyone was briefed on the race rules and reminded of trail etiquette. Generally people were curious, wondering what team would let a unicycle do one of the laps for them- then shocked to find out I was doing the whole three laps as a solo rider. One rider that was in a team made up of doctors sniggered to his friends about my ‘aero bars’ on the front of my Muni- my Muni Bar is an old lollypop bearing 20” frame clamped to the KH rail adapter and wrapped in handlebar tape.
The race consisted of three laps. The first was a 6km loop around some fire trails and 4wd trails that was used to space out the 600 or so riders on the course before the first section of single track was reached. As the starting gun went off I positioned myself at the back of the pack so that I didn’t slow anyone down on the first loop- a decision that I probably should not have been so eager to make considering the amount of riders I had to pass before I found a group that was riding at my pace. The first loop was relatively easy high gear spinning, with some tricky sandy sections and the occasional rocky water erosion section. The hardest part of the first lap was the close riding quarters- without the clear view of the terrain ahead often I was in the middle of a tricky section before I knew it but overall it was a good warm up for what was to come. As the field spaced out over a few moderate climbs it was a fast descent back into the transition area and then on to the second lap (25km).
The 4km of fire trail before our first encounter with single track featured the first real climbs and descents of the race and provided me with a great chance to overtake lots of bikers that were quick on the flats but had no climbing legs. It was on the first of these sustained climbs that I overtook the skeptical doctor that had commented at my handlebars- he kept pretty quiet. After a few more ups and downs it was onto our first section of single track- lovely flowing trails that snaked along the edge of the ridgeline with the occasional rooty section and steep switchback. With the exception of a few particularly steep switchbacks most of this was done in high gear and I caught up to the back of a small group of bikers and stuck to their tail for this section of the race. The morning was warming up and the sunshine through the canopy of banksias threw a dappled light on the green and lush undergrowth. The trail was slightly damp from the overnight dew but not sloppy, the grip and float I was getting from my duro 3.0 tyre was totally worth pushing the extra rubber around. As we shot out onto another 4wd trail some of the bikers stopped to take off clothing, others to take on snacks- they were a little surprised to see me hanging onto their riding group. I was feeling good and a little smug as I continued onto the next section of single track without having to stop.
Some more up and down and exchanging of race position on semi rough 4wd trails then the fabled ‘the wall’- A pretty serious climb that no one was riding by the time I reached it. I climbed the first 3/4ers of it before the trail was clogged with walkers, in some respects I was happy about having to dismount. I probably could have climbed it but would have unnecessarily taxed my legs pretty early in the race. At the very top of the climb the track dipped into more single track and I consolidated the gains I made on the climbs by getting onto it as quickly as possible and not taking the rest break many others were. The single track in the latter part of this lap was more technical and unpredictable and most of this was done in low gear but with a higher cadence. By this time I had started to recognize the group of people I was riding with. I would pass them on the climbs, they would pass me on the descents in the connecting 4wd track then I could catch them on the next climb. After a number of undulations a bit of banter broke out with my pacesetters out on the trail; Deep groans as I passed them on the hills, praise as they passed me on the down hills. At this point they realized it was not a gimmick, and started to treat me as just another rider out there riding and pushing himself.
One area I was really pushing myself was in the down hills. The descents were interspersed with waterbars (mounds of earth to force water run-off off the road) and the few bloody and still riders that were being treated by race officials at the side of the road was a stark reminder of what could go wrong on these trails. Light and quick feathering of the brake matched with high gear and a quick cadence made for an adrenaline pumping experience- on a few occasions I got a little airborne over the crest of these waterbars and on a few occasions I nearly pushed my balance envelope too far- only just keeping things in check with a brakeless cold sweat (and a bit of luck).
In the finals stages of the second lap I took advantage of the flatter trail riding and got some energy gels, and a banana into me, the ‘no hands’ advantage of unicycling being noted by other riders as they struggled to do the same.
As I passed through the transition area for the last time I came to realize I was never in doubt of making the cutoff, and after a brief pause to squirt some fresh water into my Gel tainted mouth it was onto the last 19km loop. Unfortunately there was to be no more single track in the race but the dirt roads used gave plenty of climbs descents and the occasional water crossing. My legs were feeling great until the last 3 or so kilometers of climbing- the standing on pedals grinding in 1:1 gave way to some twangy cramps in my quads and I was forced to dismount and stretch them out. I had been a little careless earlier on in the race about hydration and replacing my salts and I think these muscle cramps were a reminder to always plan ahead on a big ride- even if , at the time, you are feeling great. Once the climbs finished so did the cramps and then it was a quick 5km dash across farmland and dirt roads to the finish line. I crossed the line with a time of 3hrs 24mins and placed 424th out of 627 riders.
After a quick stretch and realignment of my lower spine it was presentation time where I received some chain lube (wth?) and some vouchers for the accomplishment of completing the race.
I had a great time riding against bikes, a Gmuni is too much fun to ride slow with other unicyclists these days. Since the Three Ring race I have entered the 2011 Karapoti classic and the 100km Highland Fling (coming up in August this year). A big thanks to Kevin and Mark Wharton at Unicycle.com.au for their support of this event and their sponsorship. I look forward to representing you and unicycling in Australia at more events like this in the future.
ADDICT KNOCKOUT PEDALS REVIEW
As part of a sponsorship with unicycle.com.au I was given a set of these pedals to use in the Three Ring Circus and thought I would do a little review of them. Muni riders tend not to have much experience with these as they are from a brand that caters to the young-un trials and street riders, but what you get with the Addict knockouts is a fully fledged muni pedal. Firstly let me just say that there is no point having the best pedal out there if you are going to be riding in runners or hiking boots. I use the 5.10 shoes and swear by the grip, stability and toe protection they give on even the sketchiest of metal pinned pedal (cough snafu)
Previously I had used the snafu, and Wellgo MG1 pedals for muni- the latter being a fantastic improvement over the snafus- so it was with great interest that I got to compare the Knockouts with the MG-1. The knockouts are a 10 pin, low profile, sealed bearing, CNC machined pedal weighing in at 405 Grams/pair. It is true that the Wellgo is slightly lighter than the Addict pedal but in terms of riding characteristic I think the Knockout is far superior. For that extra weight you get a larger platform, an extra pin, a low profile and an axle that runs the entire width of the pedal.
I was initially a little skeptical about the benefits of low profile pedals but for me they come into their own on climbs. The amount of times I have been cranking up a climb with Wellgos only to have my foot flip the pedal (grip one edge of the pins and lever it so it rotates- ejecting your foot) are significant. The lower profile and good pin configuration means that this never occurs to me on climbs with the addict pedal. In my whole 50km ride with these pedals grip was never an issue, and the required foot movement for shifting the schlumpf hub was achievable without compromising the connection of your foot to the pedal.
The only downside with them I guess is the hefty price tag- but if you want the ultimate pedal to go with your ultimate unicycle then I cannot fault them. They also look bloody cool.